Yeah, that article by Jordy Cummings is a much better critique of Nagle than the one by Berlatsky. Ultimately, though, what it achieves is mostly to drag Nagle down off her high horse and into the muck of the culture wars along with everyone else (Jordy Cummings included)—or, rather, to point out that Nagle was already in that muck slogging it out to begin with. Cummings rightly accuses Nagle of dilettantism, and I think he does a pretty good job in pointing out that Nagle’s attack on the very concept of counterculture doesn’t really hit home particularly well. Yet, while Cummings does a pretty good job in attacking one of Nagle’s core theses, he does very little (other than demonstrate his own cultural savviness and denigrate Nagle’s) to actually address her other criticisms of “the Left”.
Cummings also correctly accuses Nagle of this:
but he fails to acknowledge that he is doing the exact same thing himself, albeit with slightly greater subtlety and flair:
On a similar note, Cummings accuses Nagle of trying to “build hegemony within the Left culture”, but in the very same paragraph he proceeds to say that “[the] socialist Left has no room for this kind of thinking” viz. her attack on counterculture. I find myself wishing I could laugh at this, but given the knowledge that this kind of thing happens in political writing all the time and Cummings’ piece is well above average, the best I can do is to find it darkly amusing.
For now, I’ll respond to a couple of key comments by Cummings, which I think are more broadly reflective of problems in the social justice left. I suspect that Nagle may not have formulated many of her criticisms as cogent arguments, but I’m not especially aware of anyone else who has, so I guess that it’s time for me to roll up my sleeves and follow the old adage that “if you want to get the job done right, you have to do it yourself”.
No! No! Straight white cis people should not simply “listen and believe”, because the problem with choosing to simply “listen and believe” is that it means that the only way you can possibly end up getting the facts right is if you happen to listen to the right people to begin with. This is an issue that has little to do with any kind of right to “not believe survivors of sexual assault”, and framing the issue that way is toxic.
If it turns out that no one has the facts right, you’re screwed by default. Also, a common by-product of “listen and believe” w.r.t. someone who accuses someone else of sexual assault is that you must also “not listen [to] and not believe” people who are accused of it, even though sometimes (albeit rarely) the accused person really does turn out to be innocent. If the best you can do when it comes to difficult “subjective” matters is tell someone to “listen and believe”, then you have a lot less ground to stand on when someone comes up and tells you that they’ve chosen to listen to and believe Osama bin Laden, Richard Spencer, or Donald Trump.
The most egregious problem with this kind of framing (and often accusations of victim blaming or rape apology) is that in many cases this plays into in a false dichotomy that is seriously toxic. Either you 100% believe the victim, or you 100% believe the accused. Either the victim is telling the truth and the perpetrator is irredeemably evil, or they are a malicious liar out to defame an innocent soul. Any attempt to understand or empathize with either person (or both) gets you painted as either a rape apologist or a naive snowflake depending on who you’re talking to (I can’t think of a more appropriate term than “naive snowflake” because I’m not sure what term an alt-right shitlord would use). This kind of false dichotomy leaves little to no ground for rational thought or discussion, and fails to acknowledge that human memory is flawed, and human thinking is clouded by myriad cognitive biases.
Most importantly, setting up (or rhetorically insinuating) this kind of dichotomy between siding with the victim and siding with the accused is often a tactical error, and in a broader sense it is a fucking massive strategic error. Nazis know that people generally have an easier time empathizing with people who are similar to themselves, whether in culture or in appearance, and so if you boil down these kinds of social issues to mere questions of “subjectivity” and make them about empathizing with and/or listening to the correct person, an overly large fraction of white moderates might choose the wrong side, and then it’s game over; the Nazis win.
[[Yes, the false dichotomy I suggested is not something people tend to explicitly put forward, but it can sometimes be insinuated via cognitive biases or rhetorical sleight of hand. The claim that “the Nazis win” is also obviously hyperbolic, but I still think it’s vital to make the general point that extremely polarized discussion one these matters, especially with respect to accusations of being a rape apologist, can actually be highly counter-productive; c.f. “Jacobinghazi”]]
Of course, I am not saying that you should go around questioning people’s subjective accounts to their faces; that would be a serious violation of common courtesy a la sealioning and could quite easily be highly traumatic to someone. It’s also not to say that victims of sexual assault shouldn’t receive protection and support from the people around them and society more broadly, because they quite obviously should. But giving someone the courtesy, respect and support they deserve emphatically does not mean that you need to believe every word they say. It also does not mean that you should go out and participate in destroying the life of the person they’re accusing in an act of extrajudicial punishment. If you want to avoid bandwagoning against innocent people, rational thought (and not subjectivity) is the only way out.
The social justice left has a very important point in saying that, as a general rule, one should protect, listen to, and often believe someone who accuses someone else of sexual assault, and not the person being accused. After all, false claims of sexual assault are a rare phenomenon, whereas actual sexual assault is a common one. Where some (such as, apparently, Jordy Cummings) go wrong is in attempting to interpret these kinds of situational heuristics and ethical guidelines as universal principles. It’s an understandable issue, because when it comes to the real world any situation is nuanced in a way that is extremely difficult to factor into any kind of political discourse, and even more difficult to make a rational argument for. But the fact that making solid arguments for these things is actually hard is not an excuse for failing to make them, and the fact that this nuance is hard to express is not an excuse for pretending it isn’t there.
Oh, hell no! Fuck anyone who takes issue with humanizing Others, no matter how shitty those Others are (or seem to be). It is very often true that the Other Side is nowhere near as evil as you think they are, even if the Other Side are Nazis.
Cummings compliments Nagle on being “informative” and “accurate”, yet he seems to miss the fact that an essential part of actually understanding a movement is to figure out the real motivations and thought patterns of the people who make up that movement. Meanwhile, Cummings seems to be sneering at Nagle for taking that idea seriously, and insinuating that she is guilty by association for even allowing herself to even think about what it might be like to be an alt-righter.
As for the accusation that Nagle “writes about female cultural producers in a sneering, scornful way”, and Berlatsky’s accusations that Nagle is “posturing” and “being edgy”, I think that both critics are missing a very important point. Cummings and Berlatsky both recognize (with some sneering) that Nagle’s target audience is largely people on the left, but then, crucially, fail to recognize what this implies. Why should Nagle waste her own time, or the time of her readers, explaining or talking about things that she already agrees with them about?
How very shocking that a novel that is largely documentary in intent fails to directly suggest courses for future action! Also:
-Sun Tzu, The Art of War